Following the successful Think in Color Conference earlier this year, DiversityQ caught up with entrepreneur Kumu Maile Naehu, the co-founder of Ka Hale Hoaka and cultural teacher, on why ‘ohana (family) and pride in her culture drove her to become one of Hawaii’s latest female entrepreneurs.
As a teacher, why did you pivot to become an entrepreneur?
We pivoted in the first week of the COVID-19 lockdown because there was time and a need that I knew I could fulfil. Many ʻohana had to stay home with their children and figure out how to keep them educated and engaged. We provided something never done before, learning subjects such as language arts, art, science, and social studies through a Hawaiian cultural lens, and many were ready for a change.
What has been the most surprising thing for you in your entrepreneurial journey?
I was most surprised by the response from adults that they were so excited to be learning beside their children. In Hawaiʻi, for the past 130+ years, our language, culture, and stories have been suppressed since the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. We are helping to revive it and strengthen ʻohana in the process!
As an entrepreneur of colour, do you feel you face more challenges than others?
Absolutely! Being a woman, mother, entrepreneur, and teacher of mixed ethnic descent, there are so many personal obstacles that exist in society and personally. There is sadness, anger, and resentment attached when it comes to educating people that have been suppressed for so long. I see my gifts as a gift for my people so making them inclusive was huge for me.
I struggled with putting a price on things I would do and still do for free. For me to feel like I was still serving my people, our company gives as much as we receive. This was the only way I could feel at peace with it. It turns out that offering free services is a key component in running a successful business, so it works!
Entrepreneurship can be challenging. How do you deal with impostor syndrome?
Oh my goodness! This has been a huge obstacle for me! Putting myself on such a public platform was quite stressful at first. It kept causing me anxiety as I waited for someone to call me out and say I was not the real deal. Then I began having 99.9% positive feedback, hugs from people I had never met on the streets, and big events that have learned from me. Hundreds, from little ones to elders!
Can you imagine being able to connect at a place of pure aloha with strangers that become a part of your virtual family? This continues every day through emails, social media comments, and messages; when I go to town or off the island, just aloha and positivity all the time. So, ultimately I learned impostor syndrome was all in my head, and I was doing something super RIGHT and needed to continue!
You have talked about how you struggled to manage your teacher’s salary. As a female entrepreneur, what is your new relationship with money?
For the first time in my life, I received large checks rather than a very modest paycheck that gave the true meaning of “living paycheck to paycheck.” Having actual savings that I didnʻt have to dip into every month to keep my family sustained was new for me.
Because we live such a simple off-grid lifestyle, I decided that I never wanted to take away the simplicity, so our lifestyle hasnʻt changed. But, instead of having a bank account that dwindles to just enough to put food on the table and gas in my tank, we are travelling as a family more, creating lifetime memories in ways that we couldnʻt previously afford to. I was also finally able to buy a car with cash for the first time in my life at the age of 46!!
You are based in Hawaii. Do you think being away from the big cities is more difficult?
No, not nowadays. Everything can be done remotely. I think that being in a very remote valley, off-grid, and living off the land and sea as we do contributes to the quality of our online school. We are practising what we teach and could not do that if we were in the city. Plus, we were one of the first homes on our island to be offered high-speed fibre-optic internet, making it possible for us to teach traditional concepts through incredible contemporary mediums.
We also use Thinkific’s online platform to build our entire online school, and it has allowed us to optimise our mission and stay true to our purpose! Thinkific allows me to duplicate every tool or resource I would otherwise use in person, and it’s easy and fun. This makes me feel like I’m always giving my students a fulfilling learning experience. That, coupled with our top-of-the-line tech equipment and the fact that we are in a jungle next to a stream, bay, reef, and mountains, is truly phenomenal.
I wouldnʻt trade my tropically remote yet highly advanced technological work site for the world!
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I wish I knew I had something many people longed for. I knew it, but I guess I didnʻt believe I was good enough to be the one to offer it to them. I know life will never be the same for me, my ʻohana, my work team, and my haumāna(students).
What advice can you give to a Black woman who wants to start a business in Hawaiʻi?
Hawaiʻi is a melting pot, which is pretty evident in my story alone. And I see many similarities between cultures. I am Hawaiian, Chinese, Puerto Rican (Black, Taino, and Spanish), and Portuguese! I would tell any Black woman that wants to start a business in Hawaiʻi to use her cultural norms and traditions as a driving force to connect and create real partnerships that matter.
Many values are shared amongst people of colour, and in Hawaiʻi, that is the foundation of our interactions and relationships with others. Culture, food, traditions, values, music, dance, storytelling, and language are greatly valued here. Hold the old beliefs and practices close to your heart and use them as a moral compass while still embracing the new to drive you forward!
Where do you see your company in the next five years?
I see my company growing and employing more incredible humans who will allow us to serve more people and ʻohana in Hawaiʻi and beyond. I see us moving into corporate spaces to create cultural training to strengthen our Hawaiian language and culture in workspaces. I also see us continuing to service Hawaiʻiʻs schools by providing curricula that will make teachers’ jobs a little easier and, at the same time, contribute towards building a thriving people by instilling knowledge in our youth! We are on a mission to raise the next generation of guardians and storytellers firmly rooted in their responsibility to their families, homes, communities, Hawaiʻi, and the world.